January 25, 2016
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Plaintiff Cathleen Graziadio, an employee at the Culinary
Institute of America (" CIA" ), took leave under
the Family and Medical Leave Act (" FMLA" ) to care
for a son suffering from diabetes and took additional leave a
few weeks later when her second son broke his leg. During
Graziadio's second term of absence, CIA took issue with
the paperwork supporting Graziadio's leave and refused to
allow her to return until she provided new documentation.
Communication between Graziadio and CIA broke down, and CIA
ultimately fired Graziadio for abandoning her job. Graziadio
subsequently sued CIA and two of her supervisors in the
Southern District of New York (Romá n, J.), alleging
interference and retaliation under the FMLA and
discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act
(" ADA" ). The District Court granted summary
judgment to defendants, finding that Graziadio could
establish neither that she was wrongfully denied FMLA leave
nor that CIA's actions were retaliatory or
discriminatory. We conclude that Graziadio has presented
genuine disputes as to material fact with respect to her
claims of FMLA interference and FMLA retaliation, but that
she has failed to adduce evidence supporting a claim of
discrimination under the ADA. Accordingly, we affirm the
judgment of the district court in part and vacate and remand
it in part.
K. CHARNY, Charny & Associates, Rhinebeck, NY, for
J. LYNETT (Michael A. Frankel on the brief), Jackson Lewis
P.C., White Plains, NY, for Defendants-Appellees.
CALABRESI, LYNCH, LOHIER, Circuit Judges.
CALABRESI, Circuit Judge
Graziadio was fired from her position at the Culinary
Institute of America shortly after she took leave to provide
medical care for her sons and engaged in a protracted dispute
about the validity of that leave. She subsequently brought
suit under the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans
with Disabilities Act, alleging that she had been wrongfully
denied leave, retaliated against for taking leave, and
discriminated against on the basis of her association with a
disabled individual. The district court granted summary
judgment to defendants on all claims. We sustain the
court's rejection of Graziadio's discrimination
claim, but we find that Graziadio has presented sufficient
evidence to withstand summary judgment on her claims under
the Family and Medical Leave Act . We therefore affirm in
in part, and remand for further proceedings.
2007 until the events described below, Cathleen Graziadio
worked as a Payroll Administrator at the Culinary Institute
of America (" CIA" ), processing student payroll
and helping with students' administrative needs. On June
6, 2012, Graziadio's seventeen-year-old son, Vincent, was
hospitalized as a result of previously undiagnosed Type I
diabetes, and Graziadio promptly informed her supervisor,
Loreen Gardella, that she would need to leave work to take
care of him. Seeking to have her absence designated as leave
under the Family and Medical Leave Act (" FMLA" ),
29 U.S.C. § § 2601 et seq., she asked Mary
Maffia, the payroll employee who processed FMLA
documentation, to provide her with any necessary FMLA
paperwork, which Maffia forwarded later that day. Graziadio
returned to work on June 18, 2012, and, on or about June 27,
2012, submitted a medical certification supporting her need
for leave to care for Vincent.
same day, June 27, Graziadio's twelve-year-old son, T.J.,
fractured his leg playing basketball and underwent surgery
for the injury. Again, Graziadio promptly notified Gardella
that she would need immediate leave to care for her son and
that she expected to return the week of July 9, " at
least part time." J. App'x 239. When July 9 arrived,
Gardella asked for an update on Graziadio's return, to
which Graziadio responded that she would need to work a
reduced, three-day week schedule until mid-to-late August and
could return on Thursday, July 12, if that schedule was
approved. She also asked, as she had in prior emails to
Gardella, if there was " any further documentation that
[CIA] may need from me." J. App'x 250. At this
point, Gardella reached out to Shaynan Garrioch, CIA's
Director of Human Resources, concerning Graziadio's
request and the appropriate response to it.
numerous calls and emails by Graziadio seeking to find out
when she could resume work, neither Gardella nor Garrioch
responded to Graziadio until July 17. Garrioch then sent
Graziadio a letter stating that Graziadio's FMLA
paperwork did not justify her absences from the workplace and
that Graziadio must " provide updated paperwork to this
office which addresses this deficiency." J. App'x
258. Garrioch also noted that Graziadio " ha[d]
continued to be absent from the workplace due to the health
condition of another one of [her] children" and that she
would " also need to submit paperwork for this time off
from work as well." Id. Garrioch added that
this paperwork had to be submitted within seven days for
Graziadio's absences to be approved.
getting this letter, Graziadio sent Garrioch a series of
emails attempting to explain her situation and to determine
what " paperwork" CIA wanted. She noted that she
had repeatedly " asked if the Culinary would need
further paperwork regarding [T.J.'s] accident to take the
time off" but had " not received any reply to any
of these emails and phone calls," and that she was
" not clear on what paperwork you would like me to
obtain," as she had not received any FMLA forms from CIA
to be given to T.J.'s doctor. J. App'x 260. She also
stated her intention to contact T.J.'s doctor " to
obtain a note for the three days a week reduced
schedule," " under the assumption that this will be
enough paperwork" because she " ha[d] not heard
from the CIA regarding what paperwork they specifically
want." J. App'x 264. Lastly, Graziadio made clear
that she planned to return to work the following week on that
Garrioch responded on July 20 by emailing Graziadio " an
informational brochure from the department of labor to assist
you in understanding the FMLA statute and the CIA's
position with respect to your leave." J. App'x 266.
Garrioch then reiterated the asserted deficiencies in the
certification submitted for Vincent, stating that the "
certification that you did submit stated [only that] there
would be doctor's appointments every three months,"
but " you have been absent from the workplace since
early June, save for a few partial days near the end of
June." Id. She also noted that " [i]f
there is other documentation pertaining to your other son and
absences required from the office for his care, you must
provide that documentation as well, as we have no paperwork
on any medical need pertaining to your absence for his care
to date." Id.
replied later that day, reaffirming her need to work a
reduced schedule, promising that T.J.'s doctor would
" provide . . . a note to this effect," and
requesting " for I believe at least the sixth time now
FMLA paperwork for him," if Garrioch wanted specific
FMLA forms completed. J. App'x 276. She also restated her
intention to return to work the next week. Garrioch wrote
back three days later, insisting that CIA continued not to
have paperwork justifying Graziadio's return to work and
that she would not approve any schedule until new paperwork
had been submitted. Garrioch also rejected the note from
T.J.'s doctor, which Graziadio had sent in that morning,
as failing to establish a " medical necessity for you to
provide full time medical care." J. App'x 278.
Finally, she announced that she would " no longer be
able to discuss this matter over email," and asked
Graziadio to " [p]lease provide . . . three dates/times
for this week that you are available to come into work and
meet with me" in person. Id.
excruciating exchange, Graziadio and Garrioch then proceeded,
over any number of days, to email back and forth about
scheduling a meeting without actually arranging it: Garrioch
would ask for dates and times, Graziadio would respond that
she was " available whenever," Garrioch would again
ask for specific times, Graziadio would insist that she was
" available any time or day," and so on. Early on
in this exchange, Graziadio also forwarded Garrioch an
updated FMLA certification for Vincent, but Garrioch did not
acknowledge receipt of the certification or otherwise respond
to that email. At another point, Graziadio attempted to
circumvent the circular exchange by simply " requesting
to return to work" on a " full time regular
schedule." J. App'x 284. Garrioch rejected this
request and again insisted that Graziadio appear for a
meeting before she could return to work.
no one set a time for a meeting, and Graziadio, facing
persistent involuntary leave, retained an attorney. Her
lawyer, Joseph Ranni, sent a letter to CIA's president on
August 7, in which he reiterated that Graziadio wanted to
return to work but could not do so because Garrioch found her
FMLA documentation deficient and would not identify what
other documentation was required. On August 30, 2012, Ranni
had a conversation with CIA's counsel, in which,
according to Ranni, " CIA continued to take the position
that Ms. Graziadio would not be returned to work because she
had not provided sufficient support to justify her
absences" and insisted that " it was not the
employer's obligation to explain what was missing from
the paperwork and instead that it was Ms. Graziadio's
obligation to comply with the statute." J. App'x
713. CIA also advised that it " would no longer
communicate with Ms. Graziadio and all communications must
occur between counsel." Id.
that day, CIA's attorney sent Ranni a follow-up email. It
began by affirming that CIA's " understanding is
that Ms. Graziadio wants to return to work," and stating
that if Graziadio wanted to return to work, " she must
contact her supervisor to arrange for her return to
work." J. App'x 719. However, " [i]n the event
Ms. Graziadio wants to return to work," it continued,
" I also want to make perfectly clear Ms.
Graziadio's obligation to submit FMLA medical
certifications." Id. It then proceeded, for two
paragraphs, to reiterate the alleged deficiencies in the
medical documentation provided and to demand that Graziadio
" provide two sufficient and complete FMLA medical
certification forms" " by Monday," four days
hence. Id. Ranni claims that, because he was being
hospitalized for injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident,
he did not see the email until September 4, at which point he
and Graziadio began to formulate a response.
fired Graziadio one week later. On September 11, 2012, before
Graziadio had responded to CIA's email, Garrioch sent
Graziadio a letter announcing that she had been terminated
for abandoning her position. Garrioch explained that
Graziadio had been asked " through your attorneys . . .
to return to work and to contact your supervisor to arrange a
return to work date. . . . Based on the fact that you have
not contacted your supervisor to arrange to return to work as
of the date of this letter, it is obvious to us that you do
not want to return to work." J. App'x 292.
Accordingly, CIA was " processing an administrative
termination of your employment effective as of the date of
this letter." Id.
subsequently filed a complaint in the Southern District of
New York (Romá n, J. ), bringing claims
against CIA, Garrioch, and Gardella for interference with
FMLA leave, FMLA retaliation, and associational
discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act
(" ADA" ), 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(4). Defendants
moved for summary judgment on all claims and, on March 20,
2015, the district court granted their motion in full.
Graziadio v. Culinary Inst. of Am., No. 13 Civ. 1082
(NSR), 2015 WL 1344327 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 20, 2015). It first
dismissed Graziadio's FMLA claims against Garrioch and
Gardella individually, finding that neither qualified as an
" employer" subject to liability under the FMLA.
Next, it determined that Graziadio could not sustain her
claims of FMLA interference because she had not been denied
any leave to care for Vincent and, having failed to submit a
medical certification form, had no entitlement to leave to
care for T.J. Finally, it rejected Graziadio's FMLA
retaliation and ADA discrimination claims, finding a) that
defendants had proffered legitimate reasons for
Graziadio's termination--namely, Graziadio's failure
to comply with FMLA certification requirements and her
failure to contact her supervisor to return to work, and b)
that Graziadio had not shown these reasons to be pretextual.
It consequently dismissed the case.
Court reviews a grant of summary judgment de novo,
resolving all ambiguities and drawing all reasonable
inferences against the moving party. Tolbert v.
Smith, 790 F.3d 427, 434 (2d Cir. 2015). We will affirm
the grant of summary judgment only where " there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Id.
(quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)).
preliminary matter, Graziadio challenges the district
that Garrioch does not constitute an " employer"
under the FMLA and therefore cannot be held individually
liable. We agree with Graziadio because
questions of material fact remain ...